Eye On EPL

Harsh reality of the drop awaits bottom three

With two of the relegation spots almost a certainty - sorry fans of Middlesbrough and Sunderland - the identity of the third and final club dropping out of the English Premier League has come down to a three-way fight between Hull City, Swansea City and Burnley.

All three have just four games left to save their season, and while Burnley (16th with 36 points) have the worst form with just a solitary win since March, they have probably done enough to avoid the drop.

Hull, 17th and three points behind, have won half of their last eight matches, and momentum can be hugely decisive at this stage of the season.

So too can the fixture list, which is why I worry for the Swans in 18th spot. They might be only two points adrift of the Tigers, but one wonders where they will pick up enough wins. Their next two games are against Manchester United and Everton, both with top-four ambitions, while Burnley and Hull have significantly easier run-ins.

It's especially hard for small clubs, because they have less money and less spending power. People think football is about sport, but it's actually about money. Between them, the bottom five clubs this season have a combined nett spend of about £100 million (S$178 million), less than United's nett outlay of £117 million.

Without investment, it's hard to get quality. The bottom sides are short of good players, so they lack consistency and never quite hit their stride. They might win one game, then lose the next five.

Once a club gets relegated, it's never easy to come back to the Premier League. Look at Aston Villa, a club with an illustrious history that was relegated last season, and are now struggling in the second-tier Championship.

And once a club gets relegated, it's never easy to come back to the Premier League.

Look at Aston Villa, a club with an illustrious history that was relegated last season, and are now struggling in the second-tier Championship. It must have been incredibly painful for their fans.

I've been fortunate to never been involved in a relegation dogfight, but it must be tough. One thing clubs almost always do is change the coach. It's much easier and less costly to sack the coach than to change half the team.

Look at how Sam Allardyce has turned things around at Crystal Palace with shock wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

But managers like Allardyce are rare. Often, the new manager is under a lot of pressure to rescue the team from relegation. In turn, he starts pressurising his players even more - a recipe for disaster.

When players lose games, their team spirit and morale drops. They also start questioning if their team mates are good enough. They then get blamed by the fans, who don't want to shell out so much money for tickets only to watch their teams lose.

Players always want to play in front of large crowds; they want to play in the EPL.

But once a club starts going down, it's difficult to stop the downwards slide. Unfortunately for three clubs, that is the reality they face in a few weeks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Harsh reality of the drop awaits bottom three'. Print Edition | Subscribe